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Volunteer programme criticised for giving cash
Despite being from a low-income family, undergraduate Ivan Neo was able to look beyond his own financial difficulties and offer help to other disadvantaged families, all thanks to the GIC Sparks & Smiles Award (GIC Sparks).
GIC Sparks, a programme by Singapore's sovereign wealth fund GIC, became a talking point this week after it was reported that it was encouraging low-income youth to volunteer by giving them a cash grant of up to $5,000 in return.
The programme received much criticism online, with members of the public getting the impression that GIC was paying students to do community service.
One Facebook user said: "If you expect or receive monetary rewards for it, then it's not volunteering but more of a job."
Other netizens also took issue with the semantics of the word "volunteering".
Another wrote: "Sure, by all means award the cash grant - just don't call it 'volunteering' then. I'm sure the beneficiaries wouldn't want to be called as such."
In a letter to The Straits Times forum page on Tuesday, GIC clarified that GIC Sparks is not "paid volunteering" but a leadership programme for poor students.
Speaking to The New Paper over the phone from Germany where he is attending an exchange programme, 2015 GIC Sparks recipient Mr Neo said: "We weren't getting paid for volunteering. Rather, what GIC did was to allow us to help other people while they helped us financially.
"The cash grant gave me the time and energy to focus on volunteering, instead of having to worry about my own financial needs."
The 22-year-old said through GIC Sparks, he learnt about being more effective and sensitive in reaching out to those in need.
He also picked up skills to handle difficult situations, including counselling and advising young children.
"I now know that there are people who are in worse shape than me and that I always have the ability to lend a helping hand no matter what," he said.
Mr Neo lives in a five-room HDB flat in Tampines with his parents, two older brothers, sister-in-law and nephew. Their total monthly per capita income is below $2,000.
Mr Neo, who was working part-time as a student assistant in the National University of Singapore before his overseas exchange programme, had been taking part in community service projects before joining GIC Sparks because he wanted to help others in similar situations.
He said: "If I was truly after the money, I would have dedicated my time to more part-time jobs instead of the GIC programme."
After the programme, Mr Neo received a cash grant of $5,000, which he said will go towards expenses during his time in Germany.
Weighing in on GIC Sparks, chief executive of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre Melissa Kwee, said that while a volunteer should not expect a "return or reward", this does not mean that all voluntary service should be without any reward or recognition.
She added that good volunteer management and care can include covering some expenses or improving one's abilities to serve well.
But for founder of Keeping Hope Alive, Madam Fion Phua, 45, associating a cash grant with actions meant to be altruistic does not sit well with her.
Madam Phua, who makes weekly visits to the homes of the less privileged, said: "It should have been clearer that it's not payment for their volunteer work."
She felt that awarding credits or a scholarship award would be better.
"Charity should enrich the heart, and not the pocket. This cash grant can create expectations where people think they can be rewarded for doing good," she added.
GIC: It's a leadership programme for the poor
Fruit vendor shocked to find nearly half a million missing from safe
Fruit vendor shocked to find cash missing from safe at wholesale centre shop
He cried when he found almost $500,000 in cash missing from his safe.
But after the shock discovery came the nagging questions.
Out of about 1,400 shops at the Pasir Panjang wholesale centre, why was his the only one to be hit?
How did the robbers carve a hole in his safe and where were the tools?
Fruit stall owner Loh Yong Soon, 46, found his shop in a mess when he reached work at about 6am on Tuesday.
In his office, he got another shock: He found a hole the size of an A4-sized piece of paper on the side of the safe, and close to $500,000 missing.
He immediately called the police.
Mr Loh told The New Paper: "After the robbery, I went home and had a good cry."
He said he usually does not keep that much money in the safe, which has been in his office for decades.
Robbers broke into his safe (above) by cutting out a hole the size of an A4-sized piece of paper to steal almost half a million in cash. PHOTO: SPF
The bulk of the cash was supposed to be used to pay his suppliers, who prefer payment in cash.
"It was the festive period, so many of our suppliers prefer cash to cheques," he said.
"I also wanted to give out bonuses to my employees because Chinese New Year is approaching."
CCTV NOT WORKING
A week before the robbery, Mr Loh found out that the closed-circuit television camera (CCTV) installed in his office was not working because of a power trip the previous week.
He dismissed the problem because the CCTV technician was overseas.
"Some of my workers have to support their families so I felt very regretful that I couldn't give them their Chinese New Year bonus," Mr Loh told TNP, explaining why he cried.
Police investigations revealed that the suspects had entered the shop by forcing open a ventilator gap on the roof of the wholesale centre.
Two men, aged 23 and 35, were arrested at about 10.30pm at a hotel along Bayfront Avenue, just 16 hours after the robbery was reported.
Police recovered cash amounting to about $433,000.
Also recovered were luxury goods including shoes, belts and wallets, all believed to have been bought with the stolen cash.
The duo, who hold Vietnamese passports and were here on tourist visas, will be charged in court today for housebreaking and theft by night.
If convicted, they could face up to 14 years in jail.
Mr Loh was relieved to hear from police that the amount recovered more or less matched the amount in the safe.
He can now sleep better at night, he told TNP last night.
"I am in the process of fixing the CCTV in the office and definitely looking into arranging another security system on top of that," said Mr Loh.
After the robbery, I went home and had a good cry.
- Fruit stall owner Mr Loh Yong Soon (above), who was visibly relieved at getting most of his money back
CRIME PREVENTION MEASURES
Police advise property owners to take crime prevention measures such as ensuring openings are well-secured with good-quality grilles and close-shackled padlocks. People should also avoid keeping large sums of cash and valuables on their premises.
Owners should install a burglar alarm, motion sensor lights or CCTVs that cover access points on their premises, and ensure they are tested periodically.
At yesterday's press conference, Commander of Clementi Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Gerald Lim said the speediness in solving the case was due to the investigative skills of his officers and information from the public.
Public tip-offs had helped police establish the identity of the two suspects.
Thieves were well-equipped to cut safe open
Cases of thieves cutting safes to get hold of the loot are rare in Singapore, say experts.
Criminal lawyer Rajan Supramaniam from Hilborne Law, who has been practising for 15 years, said this is the first time he has heard of such a case.
The former senior prison officer added: "I have encountered cases where the thieves make off with the whole safe, but never one where the safe was cut.
"I think this current case shows a strong degree of premeditation on the part of the thieves."
Former policeman Joseph Tan agreed.
Mr Tan, who founded the Crime Library - a voluntary group that helps track down missing people - added: "It appeared that the thieves brought their equipment to the victim's office and they were very prepared to commit the crime."
He also said that the safe was most probably cut using a oxy-acetylene flame, an extremely hot flame used to cut metal.
Safe manufacturers contacted by TNP declined to comment on what it takes to cut such a hole, citing security reasons. - Shaffiq Alkhatib